October 29, 2015

Ashley Gilbertson’s “New Europeans”: A More Subtle Migrant Exodus

Between 5,000 and 10,000 people pass through the camp every day.

(click for full size – recommended!)

I imagine the hopeful and forward-looking tone, filled with casual, friendly and quietly-poignant moments, comes from the fact Ashley Gilbertson was photographing the migrant crisis on assignment for UNICEF. Let that difference, alone, help us recognize how traditional media tends to mainline a lot more adrenaline.

There are other photos in Gilbertson’s twenty-six picture slideshow that are more illustrative of what I’m talking about. I could have showed you the volunteer from Italy warmly offering shoes, or the different faces of the man and the son at the Macedonia/Greece border, or the Lebanese brothers in Braunschweig meeting another unaccompanied minor on a bicycle, or Iraqs getting to know Syrians while playing soccer when media stories hardly address more nuanced emotions, the differentiation of nationalities or refugee interaction at all.

In this case, though, what’s so unique about Gilbertson’s photo, beyond the Christo-vibe and the symbolism of passage formed by the tent material as the children run down this channel, is how it relates opposite emotional qualities at the same time. (For the purists, the boy may not be crying, but it’s hard not to take it as so.) It’s one thing to see a distinctive photo, or a whole photo story of the migrant exodus tilted toward worry or loss, or brimmed with elation. In this case, though, what the photo offers and achieves is both.

Focusing on the children —because they most embody the gracefully-titled “New Europeans,” don’t they? — Gilbertson reminds us what this historic period typically contains in between the peak moments, which is a little agony and a little ecstasy.

I would add, by the way, without undermining the balance, I’m still glad ecstasy is ahead.

“The New Europeans” at VII Photo.

(photo: Ashley Gilbertson/VII. Note: Based on the information in the previous caption, the photo was taken at the Gevgelia camp on the Macedonia/Greece border. caption: Between 5,000 and 10,000 people pass through the camp every day.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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